National Poetry Slam Champion George Masao Yamazawa is the son of Japanese immigrants — but he doesn't know how to speak Japanese. Thus, he's afraid of being the "broken chain" in his family's lineage.
In his poem "The Bridge," which Yamazawa performed at a slam poetry competition in December, he captured the identity crises many immigrants face in America.
He touched on his family's accents.
Specifically, the meaning behind his father's heavy Japanese accent. "My father's accent is a hole in a Japanese internment camp fence," he said. "It's an escape route to his culture."
He explained tricks at communicating across the language barrier.
He said that his father, a chef, uses his recipes to communicate to Americans. "He's spent more time cooking for people than working on his speech because he knew standard English wasn't going to feed his children."
Then he examined the symbolism behind all immigrants' accents.
"The accent is the mark of an immigrant," he said. "It's a ruler with mile-long increments that measures the distance away from home."
He recounted stereotypes.
Specifically, he made a poignant point about the trope that Asians excel at math. "See maybe Asians are known to be good at math because that's the only homework our parents could help us with."
Finally, he admitted he gets defensive.
He's afraid his incompetency with the Japanese will dilute his family's cultural lineage. "Or maybe I'm just being defensive because I'm afraid that my rusty Japanese is a broken chain in the link that can't hold my lineage together."